Marital Betrayal Is Not Your Fault, but What’s Your Part?

When my wife of eighteen years closed the door on our marriage and drove away to meet her lover, I crumpled to the floor and sobbed uncontrollably. The news of her nine-month affair and her decision to leave me and our two children came just minutes apart, and out of nowhere. We never fought. We had just purchased a new home and had just planned the next five years of our family’s future. We had left our old marital difficulties behind and had built a strong intimacy before moving to Dallas to attend seminary. Our children openly boasted about the health of their parents’ marriage and the stability of our home. Everything was good.

Or so I thought.

The road to recovery was long and dark. I crawled at first. Then, I managed to hobble. In time, I grew strong enough to take long strides and recover from inevitable tumbles quickly. Eventually, I grew strong enough to stand up straight and ask myself a painfully difficult question: “What was my part?”

Find out how I answered that question, and how it applies to wives of porn addicts at the Breaking Free blog at CovenantEyes.com.

Blending Families without Going through a Blender

Not long ago, a couple asked to spend some time with Charissa and me. They were both divorced (due to the infidelity of their former partners), had met at church, and planned to marry soon. They had heard we had walked their path and had successfully blended a household with four teens (two hers and two mine).

All of our children were fifteen and older, so our job had been infinitely easier than most. Nevertheless, we did learn some great lessons. To prepare for our meeting with this very wise, mature, conscientious couple, Charissa and I tried to condense our hard-knock lessons down to something manageable. Here are the principles, rules, and tips we decided a blending family should consider.

Most of these principles, rules, and tips apply to parenting in general, but become especially important when becoming parents of a blended family.

Principles

Rules without a relationship always lead to rebellion.

You cannot become an authority until you have been an advocate.

Children need to feel some measure of control over their own lives; when they feel powerless, they rebel.

All children were created equal, but they were not created the same.

You can parent by controlling your children, or by earning their trust, never both.

You can be the very best mom or dad in the world, but you will never overcome biology.

Children always abuse the parent they trust most.

Sibling rivalry comes from a perception that there isn’t enough parental love to go around.

Children feel most secure when the marriage is strong.

Rules

Never disagree in front of the children. Remain silent, address the issue later, and make adjustments together.

Never discipline your spouse’s child; gently report problem behavior to your spouse, and focus on behavior, not perceived motives.

Never speak negatively of your spouse’s children, particularly in reference to their temperament, character, abilities, or prior upbringing.

Diligently guide each of your own children in the way each should go, and trust your spouse to do the same.

Discipline your own, but bless all of the children individually and equally.

Give priority to your mate as the best means of caring for your children.

Tips

Turn power-plays into opportunities to teach responsibility (decisions = consequences.)

Establish a procedure for resolving conflicts between step-siblings, explain the procedure to the children (as a couple), and follow it to the letter.

Make having fun together a priority by planning lots of opportunities; think creatively and seek variety. Encourage participation by inviting each child to join the fun. Entice; do not compel.

Whenever possible, give each child opportunities to make choices, especially those affecting the household.

Plan family meals in advance, giving each child his or her choice of meal on a given night.

Plan a family vacation within six months of the wedding, and make anticipation a stress reliever for the family.

During the first six months (at least), plan on the family consuming every spare moment. Suspend hobbies and activities, and postpone every outside commitment that isn’t absolutely necessary. Devote this time to your marriage and to getting your new family settled into place. Things will get better in time–and sooner than you think!–but only if you start well.

Blending lives will necessarily create turbulence. This is to be expected. But if you remain calm, take the turbulence in stride, and apply your principles and rules consistently, life will again become manageable. In fact, I think you’ll discover as we did, that having these guiding principles, rules, and tips in place will solve a lot of problems before they arise. Charissa and I found the blending of our households to be a joyful experience, providing memories all six of us continue to cherish.

When Love Has to Get Tough

Sin is deadly, and unrepentant sin will kill a marriage. Regardless of the sin, whether “big” or “small” (from a human point of view), a spouse’s refusal to repent marks the beginning of the end of the marriage. However, there is hope. Like a cancer, if detected, identified, and treated, the marriage can become stronger than anyone ever imagined. Unfortunately, the remedy may be horrifically unpleasant for everyone involved. Nevertheless, unrepentant sin must be confronted. In the words of Christian author and psychologist, Dr. James Dobson, “love must be tough.”

The Lord is relentlessly loving yet utterly uncompromising when it comes to behavior that undermines our relationship. Similarly, we must be willing to stand firmly against sin. However, as women have discovered–more so than men–expressing anger or sorrow is not enough. No amount of arguing or tears will turn a sinner from his sin. It is a sad fact that when the Holy Spirit cracks the shell of a hardening heart, His tool of choice is usually the consequence of wrongdoing. Therefore, our response can be no different. For a tough-love confrontation to be truly effective, it must include no less than five essential steps. Moreover, each step must be thought out well in advance and then expressed with calm resolve at a single confrontation.

To understand the inner workings of a tough-love conversation, read the rest of this article on the Covenant Eyes blog, “Breaking Free.”

The Problem of Divorce

When speaking or writing on the topic of divorce, I inevitably encounter someone quoting Mal. 2:16, “For I hate divorce,” says the Lord, the God of Israel,” and usually with a kind of “so there!” attitude that settles a matter. This perplexed me at first. It’s like screaming at an oncologist, “Cancer is evil!”

Eventually, I came to realize that many Christians simply have no exposure to this terribly complex, deeply sorrowful issue. And to that, I say “Amen!” May nothing strip them of their innocence. Would to God the rest of us could return. Unfortunately, we must deal with life as it is.

The problem is evil. It’s terribly confusing for those who believe that God is all-powerful, sovereign over creation, and fundamentally good. God hates evil and He’s all-powerful, so why does He allow evil to continue? This “problem of evil,” as it is called by philosophers, also makes divorce difficult for believers to comprehend, especially as it relates to filing the necessary forms with the court. Continue reading “The Problem of Divorce”

Hope for the Littlest People

34 - Hope for the Littlest People (iStock_000007655825XSmall)Imagine living in a world where almost everyone is twice your size. Your world exists somewhere between the knees and the belt buckle of most everyone you know. One wrong step on a crowded sidewalk could send you sprawling. Almost everything reminds you of your helplessness. Doors too big to push, counters too high to see over, and virtually everything in the world can burn you, bite you, or fall on you. Children understand better than anyone how small and helpless all of us are in this dangerous, unpredictable universe. But without proper perspective and guidance, their vulnerability can breed fear, which can in turn, trigger destructive coping mechanisms that will plague them as adults.

Many adults choose to deny what children accept without question. Compared to so vast a universe, we are but specks, lasting just a few moments in the grand sweep of eternity. And we are very fragile specks, at that. Just as children need the guidance of wise adults to gain a proper perspective of their place in the world, adults need the perspective of the One who put us here and has a plan for us in this world. Without our Creator’s perspective, these two points of view expose two sources of anxiety that, as adults, we have learned to cope with—and perhaps inappropriately. Continue reading “Hope for the Littlest People”

Do the Math

33 - Empty Pockets (iStock_000005376392XSmall)Has the Lord called you to accomplish something beyond your ability? Doesn’t seem quite fair, does it? Imagine how the disciples felt as a multitude grumbled for food and Jesus said, without a hint of sarcasm or humor, “You feed them.”

Jesus had been trying to escape the demands of ministry—if only for a short time—so He might gather strength from His Father and prepare Himself for the busy Passover celebration. But the crowds followed, so Jesus gave of Himself again. After teaching and perhaps healing for much of the day, the disciples suggested He send the people away before they grew hungry. Instead, the Master tasked His small band of apprentices to feed the followers. Phillip’s eyes scanned the sea of faces and quickly tallied the estimated food bill for five thousand men and their families. His figure merely confirmed the obvious. Feeding that many mouths would require a sum far greater than all twelve men could earn in a year. And who would have that much food to sell out there in the wilderness, anyway? Clearly, the Lord could not have been serious. Why would He ask the disciples for so much, knowing they had so little? Continue reading “Do the Math”

A Command Is a Command

32 - Salute (iStock_000005426456XSmall)Captain George Little served with distinction in the United States Navy.  So, after obeying the order of his Commander-in-Chief, he never expected to find himself on the wrong end of a lawsuit, liable for damages in the commission of his duty.

In 1799, war between the United States and France appeared inevitable. In preparation, Congress passed a law allowing President John Adams to seize any vessels bound for French ports. However, Adams took this power a step further, ordering the seizure of vessels heading to and from France. Captain Little, commanding the USS Boston, captured the “Flying Fish,” a Danish ship, as it arrived in St. Thomas from France. And he carried out his orders to the letter. After all, refusing to do so would certainly have him court-martialed, perhaps even executed.

So how could he have been liable for civil damages for carrying out a clear order from the President? The U.S. Supreme Court eventually ruled that “instructions cannot change the nature of the transaction, or legalize an act which, without those instructions, would have been a plain trespass.”[1] In other words, orders from a superior officer—even the Commander-in-Chief—do not release a person from his responsibility to do what is right.

Chief Justice Marshall admitted his personal conflict with this decision. He sympathized with Captain Little, who merely acted in good faith, and he worried that the ruling might undermine the integrity of the military, which depends upon the implicit obedience of its members. But, in the final analysis, much more would have been lost if he ruled in favor of the hapless skipper. Continue reading “A Command Is a Command”

Tough Love Must Stand Firm

The primary purpose for confronting a wayward spouse with his or her sin is to bring about genuine repentance (Matthew 18:15). Only then can a couple can begin the process of rebuilding trust and restoring intimacy. Unfortunately, the forgiving spouse may actually discourage repentance by becoming too eager for reconciliation. At the first sign of regret or remorse, he or she leaps to the rescue with forgiveness, only to suffer the pain of a repeat offense.

Feelings of regret and remorse are good and necessary; they often prompt genuine repentance. But feelings without actions do not produce the kind of change necessary for restoring broken relationships. While a sinning spouse wrestles with his or her conscience, the upright spouse must neither press harder for a decision nor relieve any tension created by the confrontation. Watching a loved one struggle with emotional pain can be heartrending; however, that is the time to remain steadfast, even if it feels like pouring sand into an open wound.

On the other hand, many wayward spouses respond to confrontation with hostility and then pursue their sinful paths with even greater determination. This, too, might weaken an upright spouse’s resolve, causing him or her to wonder, What’s the point of godly confrontation if nothing I do will change anything? A letter[1] from “Stephen” gave me an opportunity to clarify the purpose of godly confrontation and the need to stand fast, regardless of the sinning partner’s emotional response. Continue reading “Tough Love Must Stand Firm”

Forgiveness is a Condition for Our Own Freedom

30 - The Bondage Breaker CoverThe following is an excerpt from Neil Anderson’s excellent work, The Bondage Breaker. While I differ with him in a few respects, particularly his recommended response to personified evil (Satan and demons), his explanation of forgiveness is superb. I only wish I could have written it as well. Because he has explained forgiveness so well and described the practical steps with such clarity, and because this section of his book has been so instrumental in my own healing and growth, I have excerpted it  below.

Forgiveness is a Condition for Our Own Freedom

by Neil T. Anderson

from The Bondage Breaker: Overcoming Negative Thoughts, Irrational Feelings, Habitual Sins

Most of the ground that Satan gains in the lives of Christians is due to unforgiveness.  We are warned to forgive others so that Satan cannot take advantage of us (2 Corinthians 2,. 10, 11).  God requires us to forgive others from our hearts or He will turn us over to the tormentors (Matthew 18:34,35).  Why is forgiveness so critical to our freedom?  Because of the cross.  God didn’t give us what we deserve; He gave us what we needed according to His mercy.  We are to be merciful just as our heavenly Father is merciful (Luke 6:36).  We are to forgive as we have been forgiven (Ephesians 4:31,32).

Forgiveness is not forgetting.  People who try to forget find that they cannot.  God says He will “remember no more” our sins (Hebrews 10: 17), but God, being omniscient, cannot forget.  “Remember no more” means that God will never use the past against us (Psalm 103:12).  Forgetting may be a result of forgiveness, but it is never the means of forgiveness.  When we bring up the past against others, we haven’t forgiven them.

Forgiveness is a choice, a crisis of the will.  Since God requires us to forgive, it is something we can do. (He would never require us to do something we cannot do.) But forgiveness is difficult for us because it pulls against our concept of justice.  We want revenge for offenses suffered.  But we are told never to take our own revenge (Romans 12:19).  “Why should I let them off the hook?” we protest.  You let them off your hook, but they are never off God’s hook.  He will deal with them fairly-something we cannot do.

If you don’t let offenders off your hook, you are hooked to them and the past, and that just means continued pain for you.  Stop the pain; let it go.  You don’t forgive someone merely for their sake; you do it for your sake so you can be free.  Your need to forgive isn’t an issue between you and the offender; it’s between you and God.

Forgiveness is agreeing to live with the consequences of another person’s sin.  Forgiveness is costly; we pay the price of the evil we forgive.  Yet you’re going to live with those consequences whether you want to or not; your only choice is whether you will do so in the bitterness of unforgiveness or the freedom of forgiveness.  That’s how Jesus forgave you-He took the consequences of your sin upon Himself.  All true forgiveness is substitutional, because no one really forgives without bearing the penalty of the other person’s sin.

Why then do we forgive?  Because Christ forgave us. God the Father “made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).  Where is the justice?  The cross makes forgiveness legally and morally right: “For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all” (Romans 6: 10).

How do you forgive from the heart?  First you acknowledge the hurt and the hate.  If your forgiveness doesn’t visit the emotional core of your past, it will be incomplete.  This is the great evangelical cover-up.  Christians feel the pain of interpersonal offenses, but we won’t acknowledge it.  Let God bring the pain to the surface so He can deal with it.  This is where the healing takes place.  Ask God to bring to your mind those you need to forgive as you read the following prayer aloud:

Dear heavenly Father, I thank You for the riches of Your kindness, forbearance, and patience, knowing that Your kindness has led me to repentance (Romans 2:4). I confess that I have not extended that same patience and kindness toward others who have offended me, but instead I have harbored bitterness and resentment.  I pray that during this time of self-examination You would bring to mind only those people that I have not forgiven in order that I may do so (Matthew 18:35). I also pray that if I have offended others You would bring to mind only those people from whom I need to seek forgiveness and the extent to which I need to seek it (Matthew 5:23,24). I ask this in the precious name of Jesus.  Amen.

As you pray, be prepared to have names come to your mind that have been blocked from your memory.  In 95 percent of the people I work with in this process, the first two names which come to mind are their parents.  The other often overlooked name on the list is self.  Why might you need to forgive yourself?  Because when you discovered that you can’t blame God for your problems, you blamed yourself.

Make a list of all those who have offended you.  Face the cross; it makes forgiveness legally and morally right.  Since God has forgiven them, you can too.  Decide that you will bear the burden of their offenses by not using the information about their offenses against them in the future.  This doesn’t mean that you tolerate their sin.  Tolerating sin makes a mockery of forgiveness.  You must always take a stand against sin.

Don’t wait to forgive until you feel like forgiving; you will never get there.  Feelings take time to heal after the choice to forgive is made and Satan has lost his place (Ephesians 4:26,27).

For each person on your list, say: “Lord, I forgive (name) for (offenses).” Don’t say, “Lord, please help me to forgive,” because He is already helping you.  Don’t say, “Lord, I want to forgive,” because you are bypassing the hard-core choice to forgive, which is your own personal responsibility.  Keep praying about each individual until you are sure that all the remembered pain has been dealt with.  As you pray, God may bring to mind offending people and experiences you have totally forgotten.  Let Him do it even if it is painful for you.  He wants you to be free.  I have seen many people forgive unspeakable atrocities with a great deal of emotion, but the freedom which resulted was tremendous.  Don’t try to rationalize or explain the offender’s behavior.  Forgiveness deals with your pain, not another’s behavior.  Remember: Positive feelings will follow in time; freeing yourself from the past is the critical issue.[1]

 


[1] Neil T. Anderson, The Bondage Breaker (Eugene, Oreg.: Harvest House Publishers, 1990), 194–196.

“Red Beans,” Bud, and Me

Mark with Truck 3200 acres of secluded bliss. No place on earth felt more like home to me than the Dimple-C ranch. Whenever I could find the time, I made the journey to Duffau, Texas just to hear the brambles scuff across my boots and the grasshoppers flutter as I wandered its chalky, limestone hills. The cicadas buzzing in the August air always made it seem hotter to me, but I didn’t mind. This was the real Texas, and the Dimple-C always welcomed me like a mother’s embrace.

Of course, the ranch was nothing without my Uncle R.B.. Some of my fondest memories come from the days I spent playing outdoors with old “Red Beans” and his fishing buddy, Bud Stringer. (I kid you not; his actual name.) Several times each summer, from the time I was 12 ‘til at least 20, the old coots loaded up the farm truck and drove me through thicket and brush to a tributary known only to Bud. In seventy years, he never lived more than 10 miles from the spot of his birth, and no place existed within a hundred he didn’t know intimately. Continue reading ““Red Beans,” Bud, and Me”